(Copyright 2002. The Tattoo. All rights reserved.)

Making a permanent impression since 1994

March 11, 2002

Burlington faces school crisis

By Jacqui Moreau

Like many other Connecticut towns, Burlington is growing fast -- so fast that its schools are bursting at the seams.

"Because of the good schools and nice rural surroundings," said Region 10 School Superintendent Evan Pitcoff, "houses continue to develop in the area and the people buying them tend to have children."

With greater and greater numbers of students entering the schools each year, officials are considering a controversial plan to add a new elementary school in Burlington and carry out more than $20 million worth of renovations to Lewis Mills High School.

While Region 10 includes both Burlington and Harwinton, Burlington is having more trouble accommodating the rising enrollment, a problem complicated by the need to remove four modular classrooms that have exceeded their useful life.

One hundred and twenty of Burlington’s elementary school students are already being bused to Harwinton Consolidated School as a result of Lake Garda Elementary School exceeding its legal capacity.

Each town currently has one elementary school. The towns share a middle and a high school.

While sending Burlington students to Harwinton’s elementary school is a short-term solution, by 2004, the projected student populations of the two schools will likely exceed the schools’ building capacities.

Many solutions to the overcrowding problem have been proposed, including construction of a school for grades 4, 5, and 6 which was trounced at the ballot box.

A new proposal suggests building another Burlington elementary school.

The land deal is in the final stages, said Paul Omichinski, chairman of the building committee. He said the school would be built where Jonnycake Airport is currently located.

Omichinski said the airport has already decided to shut down, unrelated to the school proposal.

Construction of a new elementary school would cost about $24.9 million, of which Region 10 taxpayers would cover $14.8 million. The school would also need staff and maintenance.

Many residents, particularly those who live in Harwinton, oppose the proposal because of the effect it would have on their taxes.

Harwinton residents have expressed concern that they are being asked to pay for a project that will only help Burlington directly.

The tax impact hasn’t yet been calculated, but it will be before a final decision is made.

Construction costs are expected to increase about 6 percent each year, according to an information brochure prepared by Region 10 recently. In addition, officials pointed out that current bonding rates are at a 40-year low.

Additions to the elementary schools would cost almost as much as building a new one and would inhibit any future expansions, the brochure said. Administrators also said that smaller schools tend to function better than larger ones.

In the same proposal are provisions affecting the regional high school.

The district plans to put in 10 new classrooms, double the size of the cafeteria, add a new kitchen, increase the gymnasium size by 75 percent and put in a new auditorium, Omichinski said.

Since the construction of Lewis Mills, the number of students has significantly increased and a middle school which shares its facilities was built alongside.

Katherine Poulliard, a senior who is active in drama at Lewis Mills drama, said the new auditorium "would inspire a greater interest in drama productions. Our current facilities are simply inadequate."

Regional taxpayers would be on the hook for $10 million of the projected $20.7 million high school renovation tab, with the state picking up the rest.

Before any ground can be broken, the final proposal must be approved by the Region 10 Board of Education. Then it faces an all-day public vote by people in both Harwinton and Burlington.

It will probably take several months before the project before the vote.

If it is approved, Burlington could have a new elementary school as early as the fall of 2004. The high school’s changes could be completed by 2005, the district brochure said.